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How do I travel?

If you’re currently in treatment, there are some extra things you may need to consider when making your travel plans. But you should be able to make it all work with a bit of advanced planning!

How do I work around my treatment schedule?

If you’re getting chemo, you’ll probably be having infusions every two weeks, which can make it tricky to plan longer trips. You can try planning shorter trips closer to home, so you can stick to your treatment schedule. If you want to take a longer trip, it may be possible to delay your chemo treatment for a week. However, this is a decision that needs to be discussed with your oncologist, because you don’t want to compromise your treatment plan. Of course, many people travel for treatment too.

Finally, remember that when you have cancer, things can change at a moment’s notice. Chemo can be delayed due to low blood counts, treatment plans can change following a scan, and surgery dates can be moved around due to the surgeon’s schedule. So if you are planning a trip in advance, book flights and accommodations that allow for cancellations or changes.

I have a compromised immune system. How can I protect myself?

If you’re going through chemo, you may be more prone to infection. This is not a given, and many patients taking chemo aren’t in fact immunocompromised. Chat with your doctor if you have concerns about your immune system.

However, if you are immunocompromised, this can be a concern if you’re traveling. You may be sitting on a crowded airplane or visiting busy tourist sites. If you’re worried about your risk of infection while traveling, it’s a good idea to first seek advice from your oncologist.

If you decide to travel, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. First of all, make sure you’re up-to-date on all of your vaccinations, including COVID and flu shots. Make sure that you ask your doctor about vaccines against diseases endemic to your travel destination. It’s important to note that vaccines may not be as effective for those with compromised immune systems.

Make sure to follow good handwashing practices throughout your trip. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Take a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you as a backup. Do your best to avoid large crowds, and wear a mask if you are in a busy area.

Wearing a good quality N95 mask while traveling can help protect you from airborne infections. 

If your destination is within driving distance, consider taking a road trip instead of flying. This will limit your exposure to infections. Choosing an AirBNB or other private accommodations instead of a hotel can also help limit your contact with other people. 

Finally, practice good food hygiene. If you are eating out, stick to foods that are well-cooked. Avoid any non-pasteurized foods. Drink bottled water. This will decrease your risk of contracting any type of food poisoning or food-related infection.

What if I need emergency medical care?

Many patients travel while in treatment without any problems or complications at all. If your oncologist has cleared you to travel, and you take the precautions listed above, you shouldn’t worry too much about this. However, it’s always good to be prepared.

First of all, make sure that you have a way to contact your care team while traveling. If there is an emergency, the local hospital can talk to your oncologist or surgeon to learn more about your medical history.

If you’re traveling out-of-state, for US patients, it’s a good idea to contact your insurance company in advance to check what kind of coverage they offer. Know who your in-network providers will be wherever you are traveling. If you are traveling internationally, make sure to understand what your insurance covers outside of the country.

Find a hospital with a good oncology department close to your travel location. Bring along a hard copy of your notes from your last oncologist appointment, along with a list of medications you are on. 

Once again, booking flexible flights and accommodation can be very helpful in this situation, in case you need to extend your stay at the last minute.

Will I set off alarms in the airport security line?

Some people with ports, PICC lines, pumps or ostomies worry about airport security. These are all medical devices, and should not set off any alarms. If you’re asked in the security line, you can explain that you have a medical device and request a pat-down. If you have an ostomy, they will probably pat down the outside of your clothes. They may ask you to touch your ostomy bag then swipe your hands on a drug-testing pad. You should never be asked to remove your clothes or reveal your ostomy bag. If you feel uncomfortable with a request from an airport security agent, calmly ask for justification for what they are doing, and request to speak to a supervisor if you are still feeling uncomfortable. Having a friend or family member to advocate for you can be very helpful.

Remember to keep your medication in the original pill bottles. Also bring along a copy of your prescriptions, or a letter from your doctor. This makes it easy for you to address any concerns that airport security may have.

Many travel destinations, such as Japan, have strict restrictions on which medications are allowed into the country. Review these restrictions before you go. 

How do I manage an ostomy?

Having an ostomy should not stop you from traveling and living your life! In the COLONTOWN Community, we have ostomates traveling the world, participating in extreme sports, and doing pretty much everything they did before they had their ostomy. If you’re a new ostomate, it may be worth waiting a few months until you’re completely healed from surgery and are really comfortable managing your ostomy before planning a trip. But after that, the sky is the limit!

Depending on the airline, having an ostomy can allow you medical preboarding status. This can allow you a bit more time and room to get settled in your seat — or get your desired seat if it’s first come, first serve seating. If you’re interested, contact your airline.

If you want to learn more about living with an ostomy, check out our ostomy section here.

What else should I consider?

When packing, make sure to put duplicates of your essentials in different places. For example, if you have an ostomy, place extra supplies in your carry on, purse or backpack, and checked luggage. That way, if anything gets lost, you don’t have to worry about finding supplies in an unfamiliar place.

From locating your hotel, to navigating a new city, traveling can take up a lot of energy! Consider traveling with a wheelchair service. Even if you are comfortable walking for long periods of time, it may be helpful to have another option in case you feel tired. Remember to listen to your body and rest when you need to rest. 

Our family traveled to Italy from California with our adult son, Armand, who had Stage IV colorectal cancer. It was a “bucket list” trip for him to take his 10-year-old daughter to all the favorite places he visited when he was in college. He had talked about experiencing Rome with his girl before his diagnosis and cancer didn’t stop him.

When you are a cancer patient, there are more precautions you need to make and plan for your trip, especially when traveling out of the country. Here is a website that is very helpful.

  1. Make an appointment with your doctor to get cleared for travel. Get prescriptions filled and have your doctor’s contact information in a PDF on your phone and your traveling companion’s phone
  2. Get your medical records on a flash drive to take with you
  3. Travel with your original prescription bottles that have the medication name, prescribed dosage, pharmacy information and your doctor’s name on the label
  4. Find the manufacturer’s card for your chemotherapy port (medical device card that was given to you at the hospital when the device was placed in your body) and bring it with you
  5. Sanitize your seating area, bring hand sanitizer, and wear a mask during the flight
  6. If you have a colostomy bag, make sure you bring ALL YOUR SUPPLIES in your carry-on luggage, and bring more than you need. Also obtain a “Travel Certificate” from your stoma care nurse. The handy pocket size certificate explains your condition and your need to carry your essential stoma products and medications with you in your hand luggage. The information written on the travel certificate is in English, but it is written in many other languages if you need it. You can show TSA this card, along with your port when going through security. If you get selected for a screening “pat down”, you can request that it be done in private. Try to book an aisle seat. This website is helpful
  7. Buy trip cancellation insurance. This is a must

When traveling out of the country:

When we traveled abroad, I learned about the healthcare system in that country. Italy has free public health care and private health care. From my research, I located a private hospital in Rome and communicated with them via email before our trip. I explained my son’s medical condition, gave them the dates of our travel, and emailed them his medical records ahead of time. It was a lifesaver for us when Armand wasn’t feeling well to know whom to call and where to go. He was able to get very good care, and a blood draw to check his bilirubin and liver enzymes. The tests were rapidly sent to us and his oncologist via email. It gave us the reassurance we needed at the time. The cost of the visit was under $60.

I hope this information will give you the confidence you need to travel and to live your best life. Although it was scary to travel abroad with our son, it gave our granddaughter, his fiancé, and my husband and I, memories that we lean on, and cherish forever. It was a gift to all of us.

Want to learn more about traveling?

Join one of our COLONTOWN Facebook groups:

  • We have over 30 location-based groups in COLONTOWN, where you can ask questions about traveling for treatment or fun!

Want to join? Fill out the registration form here.

COLONTOWN University has so much more to offer, from DocTalk videos with CRC experts to easy-to-understand explanations of biomarker tests. We’re here for you! See our list of Learning Centers here.

Last updated: April 12, 2023